Thursday, August 11, 2016

Do Twins Create A Utility Duo?

At different points during the 2016 Major League Baseball season, the talking point regarding Danny Santana and Eduardo Escobar has came up. Both players present similar skillsets, and the likeliest scenario is a utility type position going forward. The question is though, do the Twins choose to roster both players a year from now, or is their only room for one Swiss Army Knife.

First, the less flexible of the two, Eduardo Escobar. While Escobar has made a home at shortstop, he's been passed up at different points this season by potentially more intriguing options. To start it was All Star Eduardo Nunez, and of recent it's been top prospect Jorge Polanco. When considering all possible options, Escobar can find his way into the lineup at third, short, and second base. Despite having played the outfield before, that time period has almost assuredly (and for good reason) come and gone.

In 2015, Escobar slashed .286/.350/.524 from August 1 through the remainder of the season. His .874 OPS was among the best for shortstops in the big leagues, and his eight long balls in that timeframe helped to give him a career best 12 on the season. In 2016, the results have been less, but the playing time has also been more sporadic. Across 70 games thus far, he's slashing .257/.283/.386 with just five home runs and 12 doubles. His .669 OPS is the lowest mark since 2013, his first full season with the Twins.

Defensively, Escobar has taken big steps backwards this season. After posting a 2 DRS and 2.6 UZR at SS in 627.1 innings last season, he owns a -7 DRS and a -4.3 UZR across 511.1 innings this season. He's logged just 10.0 combined innings at both third and second this season as well, meaning his positional flexibility is more in principle than reality.

At the end of the day, Escobar has taken a few steps backwards in more of a reserve role this season. He's been league average posting a 0.0 fWAR and has slipped each of the past two seasons (2.4 fWAR in 14, 1.5 fWAR in 15). Off of the bench though as a fill in player, it's hard to argue against him having done his job.

Then there's Danny Santana.

Santana is two years the junior to Escobar at 25. He's out of options, but looking to pass him through waivers hasn't really been a considered option at any point this season. His .261/.300/.357 line is a far cry from the .319/.353/.472 he posted in his rookie season, but with a BABIP in 2014 above .400, we knew that was never going to be sustainable.

You can definitely point to Santana's .657 OPS being less than ideal. After hitting seven homers in his first 101 MLB games, he's hit just two in his last 157. Across 207 at bats in 2016, Santana has only 14 extra base hits, and despite his prowess for speed, he's been caught stealing (9) nearly as often as he's stolen a base (12).

When finding Santana's greatest asset, there's little reason to look at anything but his ability to spell players all over the diamond. Over the course of the year, Paul Molitor has played Santana at eight different spots. Operating as the designated hitter on occasion, Santana has played every defensive position aside from first base and catcher.

The caveat to Santana's defensive flexibility, is that he's generally below average across the board. He was awful at short a season ago, he hasn't been a good centerfielder in over 300 innings this year (-7 DSR -2.9 UZR) and his time in both corner outfield spots has been brief at best. Essentially, he's a body that is able to fill a need as opposed to holding down a role.

Going into 2017, I'm not sure the Twins will have to make the decision as to whether or not they keep Eduardo Escobar or Danny Santana. There's a very real possibility that the 25 man roster has room for both players. Minnesota doesn't project to be significantly better a year from now, and filler players like both of the aforementioned names have a place in that type of situation.

If you're Santana or Escobar, looking at the roster construction probably provides some reason for optimism as well. While both seem destined to operate as bench fodder, there isn't another infielder or utility type on the 40 man roster not currently at the big league level. On top of that, there isn't a surefire fit for someone to overtake that role at Triple-A or Double-A in the near future either.

Should the Twins have to make a choice, I think I'd lean towards keeping Eduardo Escobar, I think the bat has significantly more play, and that the defense can turn around some. I'm of the belief that Santana's best days may be behind him, and with an approach that doesn't get on base nearly enough, couple with a defensive ability that breaks down to simply wearing a glove, his usefulness is more in theory than practice. A year from now, both guys could still very well be with the Twins, but if one has to go, I'm ok with it being Santana.

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